Weekend Forecast for January 16-18, 2015
By Reagen Sulewski
January 16, 2015

He drinks because someone just asked Josh Gad to sing In Summer again.

What seems like the entirety of Hollywood descends on this weekend as many films expand to capitalize on Oscar nominations, while three others debut fresh for 2015. Even for a holiday weekend, this feels crowded, and someone's likely to get left out.

One of the expanding films should lead the way, as American Sniper (~get away from meee-heee~) expands into over 3,000 venues, riding on the back of six Oscar nominations including Best Picture (but not, crucially, Best Director). Bradley Cooper stars as the lead character, Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle. The film follows him through his multiple tours of duty in Iraq, as well as his difficulties in adapting back to society. The stress of making split-second decisions with lives on the line takes its toll on him in ways both obvious and not, and the film purports to tell his story, balancing the thrilling war scenes with the tense “return to home” scenes, or so it would have you believe.

Directed by Clint Eastwood, American Sniper (~mama let me beee-heee~) has faced criticism almost off the bat for what looks like a glorification of war, as well as Kyle's documented, shall we say looseness, with the truth. That's not likely to matter all that much to its core audience, who are naturally predisposed to rah-rah American war films with a meat-and-potatoes aesthetic, such that Eastwood is famous for. It also has a cracker-jack and slightly unusual marketing campaign, in which its commercials consist mostly of contained vignettes from the film. These are rather undeniably gripping and effective at getting across the point and tone of the film, and do an excellent job of making the film jump out in a crowded marketplace. That it received those six nominations helps to vault to the list of must-see films for people who follow this kind of thing (which I assume includes most of you reading this), whether you really wanted to see the film in the first place or not.

Strangely soft on the review front for a Best Picture nominated film, this appears to be one that the Academy is backing hell or high water, no doubt connected to Eastwood being an Academy favorite. Audiences are likely to follow them on this as these type of war stories - that is, those that aren't particularly critical of the motivations behind war while still focusing on soldiers - can prove to be quite popular. Last year's Lone Survivor was a significant hit around this time of year, and one of Mark Wahlberg's biggest grossers at $125 million. That Cooper (and his... shaky... accent) garnered a nomination for himself from this film can only help. In just four venues, it's already earned over $3 million, with ridiculous per screen averages close to $150,000. In its wide release, American Sniper (~I don't want your w... OK, I'll stop) should hit about $40 million this weekend.

Hollywood likes nothing more than repeating what's worked before, whether the things that happened around its success had any bearing or not on it. Hence, since we had a Kevin Hart movie open big last January, we get another this January. The dime store pitch for The Wedding Ringer goes like this: You know those socially awkward guys who don't have many friends but still need to look good for their wedding? Yeah, he can put together a group of “best buds” for you, so you can seem cool on your big day and oh this sounds so depressing I hope it's not a real thing.

For this movie, we have Josh Gad (with you so far...) marrying Kaley Cuoco (I love science fiction) and falling into the trap of having no friends and therefore no one to throw him a bachelor party or be his groomsmen. Instead of just opening up about this and there being no movie, we get this toothless mesh of The Hangover, Wedding Crashers and Hitch, with a nice dose of gay-panic jokes on top. This feels like a bit of a holdover from before Kevin Hart became the Black Comic White People Can Agree On, particularly in the mismatch of the star power of the two leads. Josh Gad may be talented (I said *may*), but Frozen aside, hasn't done much of note to inspire being cast alongside one of the biggest comic draws out there today.

We're about to see just what Hart's box office clout is, as with awful reviews and little to help him out cast wise (Olivia Thirlby! Jorge Garcia! Cloris Leachman!), The Wedding Ringer is basically all on Hart. That's not nothing, as the trio of 2014 films he starred in – Ride Along, About Last Night and Think Like a Man Too – demonstrate. Indeed, the latter of those films was basically given over to him as a showcase, deviating from the ensemble romantic comedy that was the first film. All of those films opened up to at least the mid 20s, but I wouldn't be shocked to see this fall a little below those others, thanks to the shoddy reviews and amateur look of the movie. That still probably means about $21 million this weekend.

One of the great icons of British children's literature, Paddington Bear, arrives this weekend in a confusing combination of being dumped and with critical raves. The story of a Peruvian bear abandoned in London, then adopted into English society, it enters upon a series of misadventures as could only befall a small foreign talking bear.

Originally cast with Colin Firth as the voice of the bear, he famously parted ways with the production in public after shooting completed, which everyone and their dog took to mean that the project was complete garbage. Surprisingly, it has a near perfect record with reviews, albeit with few actually calling the film anything special, merely saying it's decent and inoffensive. That may be enough for success in the notoriously lenient kids' film market, which has propelled all manner of crap to profitability.

The biggest hurdle it will probably face is in North America, where the character is not as familiar as it is in England. It's probably something of the equivalent of Curious George there, and a bit of a curiosity here, but the quality boost from the reviews may give it a nice push. The human cast of the film is a veritable rogue's gallery of British character actors, including Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Imelda Staunton, Peter Capaldi, Michael Gambon and Jim Broadbent among others. As well, in what feels like a bit of stunt casting, Nicole Kidman plays the film's antagonist, a knife-wielding taxidermist, a dark-seeming role for a gentle children's film.

These films are often self-limiting, in that there's a very narrow age range that actually entertains the option that it's worth their time – spotting anyone older than 12 that doesn't have kids or is reviewing the film should be difficult to find. Bearing that in mind (unintentional! I swear), Paddington should find about $13 million this weekend.

In what's kind of a depressing development, legendary thriller director Michael Mann has a film releasing in January, Blackhat. It stars Chris Hemsworth as a convicted hacker sprung to help chase down a group of international cyberterrorists. Points, I suppose, for that premise not sounding so ridiculous as it once did, but still the notion of a buff hacker running around international locations and viewing hacks in real time as visualized data is still pretty lazy filmmaking, and not the kind of thing you'd expect out of the person who made The Insider, Heat and Collateral. I'd like to think that this is some other director who just has the same name, maybe (to steal a site-mate's joke) Michael W.S. Mann.

After Miami Vice and Public Enemies, it may be time to assess the idea that Mann has lost his fastball, and in a very rapid fashion. While the subject is very au currant, the execution looks dismal, and not too different from other computer focused thrillers like Anti-Trust and Paranoia (about which the Hemsworth brothers can commiserate). The presence of Thor himself might help matters, but ultimately I'd say we're looking at a weekend of about $9 million.

Taken 3 leapt to the top of the charts last weekend with a $39 million opening, lower than Taken 2's, but still ahead of the original film in the franchise. What Taken 3 definitely can't count on is the legs of the first film, which opened in the same time frame. Pretty soon, Liam Neeson will run out of asses to kick, and today is not quite that day, but it's getting close. A drop to $18 million is appropriate here.

The behavior of Selma this week will be interesting, as it's a Best Picture nominee, but has essentially been snubbed with only that plus a Best Song nomination, a basically unprecedented situation, and something that smacks of tokenism. While it doesn't have the support of a bunch of nominations, there's the feeling of a backlash effect forming. And a snub for a film about Martin Luther King Jr. coming *on* Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend could have a powerful impact. I would not be surprised to see a big uptick in its business, to around $16 million.

The Imitation Game could be another big winner in the Oscar nomination sweepstakes, as it brought in eight nominations and has already been showing some legs. With these key factors in play, it should bump up to about $9 million this weekend.

The rest of this week's significant earners all involve the Oscars, albeit not as Best Picture candidates. Into the Woods, The Hobbit: The Last One and Unbroken all trickle in with one to a handful of nominations each, and as such should not see much, if any, bump from these nominations. At best, they might see a bit less drop than usual. Expect these to land in the $5 to $7 million range this weekend.